Bikes, trams and Freddy Mercury.

18 cyclists have died on New Zealand roads this year, more than three times last year.  And the Herald is asking people for close call stories. Here’s my top three.

Freddy Mercury in a Jap Import

I’m cycling home on Great North Rd, just past Spaghetti Western, at rush hour. It’s not gridlock: four lanes are moving fast. Honk! A close-by horn startles me. A dude in a small Japanese sports car overtakes me, flips me the bird, then stops in a queue at the lights as I pass him and leave him behind.

Couple hundred metres later, same thing happens. Honk! Dude’s got an attitude problem. Then it happens again. Honk! This time, he overtakes me and stops on the broken yellow line leading up to the lights at Avondale race track. His car door opens, and he gets out. I think: what the fuck?
I see him stand apart from his car, legs spread, holding his door wiiide open like a man-machine gate, blocking the entire lane as he looks back towards me, fast approaching and leading the oncoming traffic. Behind him, the lights turn green. Surrounded by cars swerving to miss him, and me, I take to the inside lane and – for the last time – I truly leave him far, far behind.
In the midst of the chaos, I manage to catch a glimpse. He’s partly ripped, partly flab, in tight denim shorts and a wife beater T. He’s got aviator sunnies, terrible skin and a Freddy Mercury ‘tache. He’s retreating back into his stinking metallic shell, fag in mouth and foul thoughts in mind. Whatever he’s on, I really don’t want it.

Look to the left

So many of these. This one’s on Hillsborough Road: a winding, undulating affair overlooking the Manukau. Again, plenty of traffic. I’m casually zooming downhill when a young woman in an old hatchback makes a left turn, at the very same moment that she’s trying to pass me. In other words, she’s attempting to turn through me, like I’m simply not there.
I lock up my back brake. I yell: “Oi!” Nothing happens. It’s a well sealed road, but – non cyclists may be surprised – there’s just enough fine gravel around the gutter to prevent me stopping, and keep me skidding. “Oi!” I repeat. She’s calm as a cucumber, but I know she’s seen me. For a thousand microseconds it’s just me and her, wheels in lockstep, heading for oblivion as my space between her car and the curb gets smaller, smaller, sma-
I consider smashing my fist against her window but this is no time for histrionics: death is upon us. I just make the turn into the same road she’s aiming for, bring my bike to a stop, and watch her drive off into the distance, before remounting and going back to my oh-so-pleasant commute. She was a young Asian woman with steel rim glasses, a crucifix round her neck and rusted barbed wire coursing through her veins. At least Freddy was clear about his intentions; but this calmly grinning bitch is the ice queen.

Kids on trams

Riding to work past Western Springs Park, I find no room for cyclists between the cars and the plastic road works barriers, so I hop onto the footpath. Up ahead, I see a crown of hi-vis guys on the footpath, so I cut across a metre of grass and get onto the concrete tram line. I have to adjust my speed to allow for the odd pedestrian here and there, but on the whole it feels good.
Coming towards me, a young school girl rides a bike, with one hand on the handle bars, the other holding the hand of her brother. Brother is on a skateboard, and she’s towing him. The pair of them have just enough control at the speed of a casual stroll to stay between the inset grooves of the tramlines: nothing more. They’re everywhere, and they’re coming straight at me.
I smile. I chirp “keep left!” as cheerfully as I can. “keep le-” I manage to traverse the steel tracks, at a dangerously acute angle. Now I’m wobbling on a few inches of concrete on the outside of the track. My front wheel drops off the hard ledge. It’s only about two inches down into the grass, but it’s enough to catch me off balance. the front wheel goes perpendicular to its trajectory, and the bike and I land in a painful, splattered heap on the concrete.
The road workers are a top flight crew. They’re friendly and sympathetic. One of them promptly produces a first aid kit, and uses fresh saline caps and clean wipes to wash my fresh, pebbled grazes before competently dressing them. Months and months later, long after I’ve reported the incident to Auckland Transport, someone whose job it is to ring me up, does so. He tells me he was a cyclist himself, once. But no more, since an accident with a car caused him to break his back.
The only single thing these incidents have in common, besides me, is that they would all have been prevented by a separated cycle lane. I suppose we could also say, well, if Freddy, and the Ice Queen, and the kids on the tram track had their basic shit together, then that might also have made my day a little safer, too. But we forgive them, for – being human – they know now what they do. And, after we’ve forgiven them, we separate ourselves from them, with a nice and aesthetically pleasing strip of concrete blocks, demarking a safe and functional cycle lane.
The idea that someone is occupying the cycle lane currently under construction in the remote hamlet of Grey Lynn, on the basis that it could have been consulted better, is a travesty on the long, proud and progressive history of the very word “occupy”.
Update: WordPress formatting has gone to shit.

7 sleeps till Going West

I’ve gone a bit literary in recent years. As well as biting off a slightly-larger-than-I-can-eat biographical project (on which more later), I’ve got a teaching gig with the creative writing team at Manukau Institute of Technology, and I’ve also found myself on the board of the Going West Festival.

Why? After 30 odd years as a theatre director, dramaturge, critic, researcher, content strategist and producer, it eventually dawned on me that all I really like doing – all I’ve ever really done – is tell stories. So, now I’m doing as much as I can.

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 12.47.19 PM

Going West is going strong. The bad news is that we’ve got a change in venue this year. The Titirangi War Memorial Hall had a bad fire a couple of weeks ago, so this year we’re in the old Waitakere Council Building in Henderson.

While it’s no longer in my neighbourhood (I love strolling up the road to the festival, taking in a show at Te Uru gallery sometimes on the way); the Henderson venue has the distinct advantage of being built on a train station, so it’s super easy to get to. And since the inaugural festival was founded by Murray Gray on a train with a reading by Maurice Gee, that seems fairly ideal too.

The programme has highlights aplenty. On opening night of the Books and Writers’ Weekend, this Friday, I’m looking forward to Small Holes in the Silence, which is a range of New Zealand poetry read by Bill Manhire and accompanied by Norman Meehan, Hannah Griffin and Blair Latham. The same night has more poetry by Selina Tusitala Marsh and a lecture by the always-erudite economics journalist Rod Oram.

Elsewhere throughout the weekend you’ll find me in the room with Anne Salmond and Moana Maniopoto on New Zealand in and after 1840; Catherine Chidgey and Sue Orr on The Wish Child; Witi Ihimaera, Tina Makereti and Paula Morris on their anthology of indigenous writing; and Russell Brown and Colin Hogg on weed (the subject of Colin’s new book).

There is more to the festival beyond the weekend, though. The theatre programme alone is an entire festival in itself, including a night with Rawiri Paratene, a playwriting masterclass by Albert Belz, The Maori Sidesteps, and Kororareka by Paulo Rotondo and Red Leap Theatre, and miles more besides.

On Saturday Night I’ll be as close to the front as I can get at the Poetry Slam final. Here, spoken word artists slug it out for a cash prize. While some people find competition at odds with culture, I like this annual event. It’s all about courage and honesty and changing the world and I think putting money on the table sharpens all the contestants’ verbal blades.

There’s also a new event this year: a little cinema festival. Across 18, 19 and 20 September there’ll be a doco on Mansfield, another on Sargeson, a curated collection of cinepoetic shorts and also a screening of the much loved, highly awarded My Father’s Den, based on Maurice Gee’s third novel.

So, take a break from changing the government, get on a train and go west (preferably while reading Going West). And don’t forget to bring a bag for all the books you’ll want to get while you’re there.

Putting the civil into disobedience.

Metiria stated in Friday’s presser words to the effect that

We’ve tried everything. Bills. Debates. Research. Nothing works. I’d far rather people get angry about this, than not talk about it at all.”

So, that happened. My guess is that after umpteen years in opposition, she was simply looking at ways to change it up a bit. Sometimes you just have to roll the dice.

The ethical complaints are pretty much a non starter. Obviously, she was being dishonest with WINZ, and that’s not something to encourage. However, not all dishonesty is the same. For instance, does anyone now begrudge Ngati Whatua their ownership of the land around their Orakei marae? Does anyone think Mahatma Ghandi was wrong to make his own salt? Did Oscar Wilde really deserve being subject to forced labour?

Sometimes, the most profound civil disobedience is executed by people simply living their lives as best they can.

Meanwhile, over at Public Address, Craig Young has compiled a handy list of transgressions of currently sitting government ministers:

  • Richard Worth: allegations of sexual harrassment
  • David Garrett: past identity theft of dead infant
  • Aaron Gilmore: harrassment and intimidation of others
  • Claudette Hauiti: misuse of parliamentary charge card, claimed expenses after announcing departure from Parliament
  • Mike Sabin: alleged assault complaint
  • Pansy Wong: misused parliamentary travel perk after her husband conducted private business on a visit to China
  • Nick Smith: contempt of court (March 2004); defamation cases (1999,2005); ACC conflict of interest (2012)
  • Todd Barclay: employment dispute, clandestine recordings

Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. But these are all of a wholly different order to Metiria’s transgressions. First, all these people were sitting, government MPs when they did their wrongdoing. Second, they all got busted in the act, caught in the full knowledge of what they were doing. Some of them are still in the job, and one of them is still the PM. If only progressive voters could be so lax in their moral standards!

The electoral issue is even less problematic. In fact, it’s not problematic at all. The commission appears to be more interested in getting people to enrol and vote once, than bothering too much about what electorate they vote in. It says (with my apologies, as I can’t provide the citation):

People have a wide range of living arrangements which may involve living in more than one place at various times.

It seems John Key himself was ignorant of this relaxed approach when, in 2004, he corrected his information on the electoral role to reflect where he lived (Parnell), rather than where he’d previously voted for himself (Helensville). This was the exact same thing as Metiria did, only she voted for another, and wasn’t an MP at the time.

So, Metiria rolled the dice. The dice that landed gave Labour a fabulously compassionate woman at the helm. She’s electable: good outcome. Even better, while her politics are currently a bit ambiguous, she’s clearly to the right of the Greens. I think that’s probably useful. Labour can chase disaffected National voters, and the Greens are there for disaffected Labour voters, many of whom suspect that “centre left” really means “new right”.

At times, I’ve argued for greater agility on the Greens’ political positioning. I’m over it, for now. Left of Labour is where they need to be.

I still maintain that those who wish to change the government ought to cast their party vote to the Greens. Jacinda will go to Parliament, because of her ranking and because of her electorate. Labour electorates will come back in force. And the more Green MPs that she has in coalition, the better – and more properly Labourish – she will be.

Metiria, there’s so much to discuss.

A lot of people who know I sometimes hang out with the Greens have expressed concern at Metiria’s story of historical welfare fraud. Among my predominantly  middle class, home owning, vocationally engaged and progressively voting friends, there is a palpable fear that she’s done the wrong thing. Personally, I disagree. I think she’s done something courageous, good and very, very helpful.


Most of the concern seems to be that she – and the Greens – will lose votes. My question is: which ones? The answer? All those welfare bagging scoundrels out there who’ll gleefully grab the stick she’s handed them and beat her with it. She’s given her enemies something to complain about. But obviously, her enemies don’t vote for her.

The most imperilled Green votes are probably from those who are a bit older and more socially conservative than the party itself: middle class people, maybe well over fifty, who had to think long and hard about defecting from Labour to support the Greens in the first place. I’m characterising good people who care a lot about honesty. They’ll be understandably spooked.

To anyone who’s thinking twice about their Green vote as a result of Metiria’s confession, I ask, what’s really changed? Metiria has clearly, emphatically and specifically pointed out some serious problems with the way New Zealand handles welfare. This is a vital discussion for anyone in New Zealand, and especially for anyone who wishes to change the government. The discussion starts with welfare and expands like oil on water to impact all the key portfolios such as tax, housing, education and health: all the stuff – good and bad – that rich folks have and poor folks don’t.

To remind us: benefits are too low. They need to enable life, not suffocate it. Abatement rates (which deduct benefits in ratio against other income) are miserably disincentivising. The way that WINZ handles (or doesn’t handle) their clients is typically bossy, often bullying, and nearly always unhelpful for either day to day practicalities or big picture stuff like housing, education, employment, and so on.

Within the DPB, the sole guardian benefit is deducted on the scantiest evidence of a relationship, including the fact that a parent has sex with someone else. I believe case workers have been known to inspect houses for signs of other gendered undies to ‘prove’ such cases. I don’t want that happening in my country, and not in the name of my government.

Above all else, Metiria has been honest with us, on two levels. One, she’s fessed up to something she’s done. That’s not only rare. It’s commendable. It’s one of the best things any person can ever do. Some forgiveness (said to be a divine act) is warranted, right there.

Two, she’s done so in a way that forces us to ask what our country should be: one that leaves its weakest lying in the gutter? Or one that respects and bestows mana on all its inhabitants: citizens, migrants, tourists, criminals, everyone.

Metiria has made much of the fact that what she did, she did out of need. While MSD or even the courts might overlook that factor, no morally intact person can.

Some have asked Metiria’s to compare her transgression to a business owner facing liquidation proceedings lying to get IRD off their back. Well, sure, that’d be bad, and so is the unreasonable hounding that IRD have been known to engage in from time to time. So if someone in Parliament has a personal story about that, don’t be a stranger.

I’ve been on the opposite side of the fence. I used to pay cash to a friend of mine to do a bit of cleaning. She’s a good sort: she works hard with her kids, and in her part time jobs, and – far more than she wants or should – in dealing with obdurate WINZ staff and draconian policies. Katie and I were both lucky to be in full time work so were happy to help out. I’m ashamed that we paid her what we could, not what she’s worth, and it’s not pleasant work. So the thought of her giving it back to the government seemed ludicrous then, and still does now.

And the abatement rates really can be punishing. It’s not uncommon in some situations for people who declare their part time work to end up with less than they had before they worked. It’s not possible for the WINZ bureaucrats to not know that’s happening. And it’s neither credible nor acceptable that they think it’s ok.

Although I don’t have time to link to it, there was a report published recently which held that if you measure poverty without taking the cost of housing into consideration, it has not grown significantly in recent years. But – surprise! – it has, if you do.

In particular, the very bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder has grown. That not only includes beneficiaries, it also includes homeless people who are cruelly disqualified by virtue of being too poor; and – increasingly – working people who (it is so terrible to say) simply can’t afford to live properly.

At least three working families in our decile 8 school have fled west Auckland in the last year, chasing cheaper housing in distant regions. Poverty is literally removing people from our community. I’m sad to see them go. So are our kids. Although for the families who leave, there’s palpable excitement at the thought of an extra few bucks awaiting them after the upheaval of shifting.

As for the impact of all this on your party vote: here is the bottom line. If you want to change the government, give your party vote to the Green Party. Why? Because if you want to change the government, you want the government to be Labour and Green. The Green Party will thrive or die – as it always has – on its party vote. Labour will get a big chunk of party vote, and a big chunk of electorate votes. At best, the Greens will get a single electorate MP. All the rest will be list MPs, sent to Parliament on the party vote.

So, it’s not only the Greens who need you party vote. It’s Labour, too. Unless, of course, you are drawn to the idea of a Labour government run by New Zealand First.

The other comment to make to those who fear she’s somehow done the wrong thing is this: while Metiria has caused doubt among some, she’s inspiring others. Like this.

There’s a lot more to come on this. Not the least of which will be the details of the investigation. In particular, there’ll be a lot about whatever figure WINZ decide she owes them.

Airport rail by when?

By Roger Leroux

Roger Leroux is a transport planner and modeller. He’s seen a fair few infrastructure decisions in his time and at close quarters, too. He reckons not all of them are very good, and that some are very bad, based on bad information and misguided intentions. He’s kindly offered me a few blogs about all this, starting with this one.

Roger writes under a pseudonym because – sad to say – he’s known clients give him the cold shoulder when his modelling doesn’t support institutionally desired solutions. For my part, I don’t always agree with him either. But – more importantly – I find him interesting, challenging and usually enlightening. So, enjoy, comment (here or the socials) and watch out for more. Cheers, James.

With an election less than three months away we probably shouldn’t be surprised by the press release issued by the Greens this week headlined “Greens to fast-track airport rail for the America’s Cup”. It promises rail to Auckland Airport by 2021. It could be one of many press releases issued by different politicians over the years if we substitute the words “rail” or “light rail” for other types of infrastructure, and swap the words “America’s Cup” for other major events. It also uses the words “national significance” and “transformative” which have been used by politicians and others promoting major infrastructure project over the years. As it offers no justification for these statements I think we can dismiss them as meaningless verbiage.

The first significant question is whether such a project could be completed by 2021. This seems unlikely as major projects of this sort usually take much longer than this to plan and build. Even if it could be done in this time frame would it be done properly and at reasonable cost? Major projects have long lives and rushing their completion for some short duration event is unwise.

The second significant question is whether this project is needed at the moment or in its current form. It does nothing for airport access from the east and south of the city – are residents from these areas only going to have the limited bus service that is provided at the moment? Rail links to airports in Brisbane and Sydney after opening failed to meet their patronage forecasts.


Aussie Rail

From MacGregor & Raymond, conference paper, available here.

This shouldn’t be a surprise – rail projects are extremely expensive and the economic case for them is often weak. Once a project gets political backing the people doing the demand forecasts feel a need to please their political (pay)masters and tend to adopt more optimistic assumptions to improve the project’s economics. This and the other factors mentioned above is what makes press releases of this sort so dangerous – they inhibit sensible making.

ETNZ Update: if I were Jimmy

On average, ETNZ is between 1 and 2 knots faster than OTUSA. At average speeds of about 22 knots, that’s an increase of roughly 5% – 10%. In the old days of slow, heavy keel boats, that would be unthinkable. But with the high speeds and volatility of foiling catamarans it doesn’t seem like such a big ask. OTUSA are already faster in some instances.


Williwaw was an early sailing hydrofoiler. Owner/designer David Keiper sailed her across the Pacific and as far south as New Zealand in 1971. Photo source unknown.

OTUSA can select from two broad categories of modification: stuff that ETNZ is already doing, and stuff they’re not doing. The main kit that ETNZ has that OTUSA might put on the shopping list includes

  • Grunty foils
  • Pedals
  • Push-button wing control
  • Greater role distribution across crew members
  • Tidier windage profile among the crew
  • Windward heel

ETNZ’s large, light air foils seem to have a wider wind range than OTUSA. The Americans won’t be able to build whole new foils in 5 days. But they can modify the ones they’ve got, and they should have the data and the build capacity to make some tweaks. They could conceivably make up the majority of average speed difference right there.

It’d be pretty wild if OTUSA rock up to the next round with a full kit of pedal power. Pedals bring numerous advantages. In addition to power, they also facilitate a better windage package and different (usually better) role allocations.

But it’s hard to see them cracking the installation, running the on-water tests and then getting the crew familiar with the new tricks. But – hey – who knows what lies within the reach of rich dudes? They may have a full pedal kit just waiting to go in.

More power must have at least three direct impacts on speed: better fine tuning of the rig and foils; greater ability for big manoeuvres; and better use of crew energy.

I can think of two easier ways of getting more power. One is to get bigger stronger grinders. Olympic rowers, whatever. Although you’d think they’d already have the best they can get. I don’t know what the current class rules say about performance enhancing drugs.

The other way would be to generate electricity, rather than hydraulic pressure. This is in fact permitted under the class rules: a team is allowed to generate and store up to 60v of electricity. Is anyone already doing this? Why have no journalists asked about it? Maybe the batteries are heavier than the hydraulic accumulators. Maybe I have no idea. But you’d think …

Push button wing control – such as what ETNZ skipper/trimmer Glen Ashby uses – should be easily doable. I have no idea how these guys control different sections of the wing. But presumably having one ace trimmer in control of the whole thing via a little touch screen must be cool. With less physical work required it might keep the trimmer’s head clear to feed tactical info to the helm. I’d be surprised if this didn’t turn up on OTUSA on Sunday NZT.

Does it make the boat go faster? Pretty incremental, but conceivably. Remember, they’re only looking for 2 knots around the track. In some cases not even that much.

Separating the tasks of steering from foil control looks like it’s working for ETNZ, mostly. It’s possible that the pre-start nosedive against Artemis resulted from foil trimmer Blair Tuke not anticipating such a rapid bear-away from pilot Peter Burling. But 99% of the time it just looks faster. It looks like Burling can concentrate on where to put the boat and Tuke can work on the hydrodynamics to get the boat there ASAP.

It could be that the Burling/Tuke relationship is the irreplicable x-factor in ETNZ’s package. They’ve completely dominated the high performance 49er class for the last 4 years, not losing a single regatta including the worlds and the Olympics (beating out Artemis’s Nathan Outteridge and Ian Jensen). They must have a deeply intimate knowledge of each other’s sailing style, and it would be interesting to know how much of that they can transpose from the highly physical 49er dinghy to the rather more mechanised AC boats.

The cycling thing looks like it gives the ETNZ crew a slightly higher but much smoother windage profile from the hunched backs of the front 4 crew, nose-to-butt like a peloton. And with upwind apparent windspeed of – say – 40 knots in a blow, windage is a significant factor.

Can OTUSA improve its windage profile without reconfiguring its grinding kit? Maybe. Probably not.

While all the teams sail around with bows down, ETNZ might also be digging in their windward rudder foils harder than the others, which slows the boat slightly because it inverts lift, rather than generates it, and in turn screws the windward bow down further.  Is it faster? Who knows? Windward heel is very popular among the foiling International Moth, and Burling was recently the world champ in that class, so maybe it’s the same thing.

Of course it’s impossible to avoid comparisons to the great upset of San Francisco. One day off, and OTUSA transformed their boat from one which was about the same speed as ETNZ to one that was faster upwind. They modified their foil control mechanism and from that point on, OTUSA became the first AC boat to reliably foil upwind, with a speed advantage on upwind legs measurable in whole knots.

Upwind speed seems to be more critical. Because upwind is slower than downwind, the boats spend more time in that mode. I’ve also noticed that most of the passing tends to happen in the top half of the upwind legs. Meanwhile in some races OTUSA had a downwind speed advantage over ETNZ, but were unable to convert that to a lead.

Whatever OTUSA pull off this time round, it won’t be a single transformation. But they can put together faster foils, and they can easily modify their wing adjustment. They’re already out on the water, so significant changes to the kit seems increasingly unlikely. Interestingly, ETNZ – celebrated by everyone as being the faster boat – is still in the shed undergoing modifications.

People, water and trees in Titirangi

Auckland’s fresh water provider — Watercare — recently announced a plan to build a new water treatment plant in the Titirangi neighbourhood of Woodlands Park. As a resident of Titirangi, I’m not yet sure how it will affect me directly: I live about a mile away from the site. But it’s certainly going to affect some of my friends. They’re feeling angry, scared and pretty let down by a host of bureaucrats and politicians.


A small number of the 250 – 300 people who showed up to demonstrate their frustration outside Watercare’s existing treatment plant in Woodlands Park Rd, Titirangi.

The decision came as no surprise. Their other option — in Oratia, just over the hill — was successfully fought down by the locals there. But I don’t believe that had much to do with it: the Oratia site was never going to fly. It wasn’t owned by Watercare; it was owned by the people who live on it. The Titirangi site is owned by Watercare, nobody lives on it, and it’s already got a treatment plant on it, the expiry of which is causing the problem in the first place.

But that in itself means little to the people who live there. The people in the quiet, bush clad streets surrounding the site are upset. They fear that something horrible is on its way. They fear that the new plant will destroy valuable forest and that it will generally be a nuisance to live close to.

So, will it? My problem here is that I just don’t know, and I should. We all should. The Board’s recommendation is a long, jargony document, but has this to say:


There are some negative effects during [construction], particularly for people’s way of life, however given the smaller number of people affected, the nature of the community and accessibility for that community and the existence of a WTP in a similar location these effects have been assessed as being generally lower than for the Parker Road options.

“Way of life”? “Nature of the community”? The generous view of this rather appalling statement is that Watercare have assessed that people don’t mind living around the existing plant, so they probably won’t mind living around a new treatment plant.

My problem with that is that I don’t know what the new one’s going to be, or what the construction of it will involve. In illustrations, the new plant looks a lot bigger. It will also occupy both sides of the road, which it doesn’t at present.


What you can’t see here is two large cylindrical reservoirs, 8m high, on the left hand side of Woodlands Park Rd.

It’s also not entirely clear to me why Woodlands Park impacts fewer people than Oratia.

There’s also this:

The Manuka Road [i.e. Woodlands Park] site would result in the greatest adverse effects, both landscape and visual, primarily due to the clearance of significant indigenous vegetation.

“Greatest adverse effects”? So that’s ok, then.

Just that the indigenous vegetation is a large part of why anyone comes to live in Titirangi in the first place. The place is practically crawling with wildlife, nearly all of which lives inside indigenous vegetation.

There’s miles more, but I’ll leave that for your own delectation.

The Auckland Botanical society did a site assessment, independently, so I optimistically rang them up. They concluded that about a third of the 4ha site consists of large and valuable podocarps (things like kauri), about a third is less valuable kanuka and fern, and another third is botanically worthless weeds growing on empty residential sites, formerly used to house employees. They reckoned if Watercare can steer clear of the podocarps, the site should be sweet. That sounded promising.

But then the author of the report told me that he also happened to live in Oratia, and was closely involved in their campaign. He included his report — recommending Woodlands Park — in his submission to Watercare. So while his report may be completely valid, it’s a bit hard for those on this side of the hill to read at face value.

Apparently there is also a couple of species of endangered native lizard living in the bush that Watercare would have to remove. Whether the Botanical Society’s report makes any informed reference to these I don’t know.

There’s screeds more in the opinion, but I’ll leave that to you. Basically, Watercare is progressively infuriating everybody on both sides of the southern Waitakere ranges.

I like the Green Party’s take on it, which is that getting the neighbourhood onside is a good idea, and that requires two things:

  • An independently facilitated community working group
  • Independently contracted site assessments for ecology, neighbourhood impact and health and safety (covering things like heavy vehicle traffic)

The independent part is really what counts. So far, practically all we have to go on  is what Watercare choose to tell us, and even that is coded in bureauspeak. But if Watercare want to get on with their neighbours they need to lift their game.

Why not make it a collaborative design project? The people in the neighbourhood know what they want. Watercare know what they want. Add to that some quality input from a few disinterested specialists, including facilitation, and I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

Because with such a process, we’d eventually discover several things which we don’t currently know:

  • What is the best model of distributing potable water to Auckland?
  • What is the best type of location for this service?
  • What design will accommodate the diverse needs of the project’s various stakeholders?

That doesn’t mean handing over control of a vital piece of infrastructure to the locals. Rather, it means treating consultation as a process of learning and discovery, which can be easily harnessed to a better outcome for everyone.

I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to expect local folks to trawl through 20 pages of single spaced jargon to understand what’s happening in their own neighbourhood.

Watercare have indicated that they’re willing to convene a stakeholder group but I’ll be very surprised if they take any notice of it. It needs independent advice and facilitation. Auckland Council needs to do everything possible to ensure that our water provider continues to work proactively with the communities it serves.

UPDATE: There’s an open meeting on Wednesday, 14 June, at 7pm, Woodlands Park Primary School.

UP-UPDATE (following the public meeting last night):

  • Everyone’s talking in different languages. Local residents of anywhere aren’t necessarily schooled in the art of designing infrastructure, and Watercare is clearly ignorant of any notion of community leadership or ecological management.
  • Nobody in any position of authority is doing anything to connect these narratives. Not the local board. Not Council. Not Government. There is a total leadership vacuum, which benefits those with the deepest pockets.
  • With Havelock North still recovering, and Woodlands Park now emerging, this seems like a good time to ask: how useful is the reticulated model of water supply? Again, nobody in any position of authority is doing so.
  • One resident told us that he’d asked WaterCare why they’d excluded a site next to one of their Waitakere damns. They told him that if something went wrong, they risked a chemical spill into the damn. That’s cold comfort for the several thousand people living downhill from both the existing and the new site.
  • Local Board chair Greg Presland and Auckland Councillors for Waitakere Ward Penny Hulse and Linda Cooper all said more or less the same thing: we’re sympathetic, we can listen and relay your concerns, but otherwise, this community is on its own. Lawyer up and break out the climbing harnesses, folks.
  • Greg also mentioned that this will be a good test of the Waitakere Ranges Protection Act. Considering he was one of its architects, this statement doesn’t exactly ring with confidence.
  • There is a ray of light. WaterCare is forming some kind of community working group. For that to have any credibility, it will need three things: wide and balanced membership of both experts and residents; independent facilitation; and the mandate to influence the outcome.